Luke's Runaway Bride

The Midwife’s Secret

The Surgeon

The Commander by Kate Bridges
(Harlequin, $5.50, PG) ISBN 0373-29410-7
Kate Bridges has written several stories about the Canadian Mounties in the late 1890’s. This story returns to Calgary, where people with a past have to move on and develop a future. The Commander is a good story but never quite reached the level of a great story.

Ryan Reid is the eldest son of one of the richest ranchers around and he had everything going for him, until one day, he got in fight and killed a man in self-defense. Because of his relatively rebellious teenage years, his father, Joseph, threw up his hands in disgust and Ryan left, thinking that when his parents said “get out,” that it was for good.

He left behind a young girl who adored him and had given him her virginity, despite the fact that she was poor and his family had never approved of her. In fact, Ryan’s father had been their jailer when the girl’s family had been incarcerated for failure to pay off their bills. Now, ten years later, Julia O’Shea is widowed with an eight-year-old son and is trying to run one of the local newspapers. She discovers that a Mountie has just come into town to help control the wildfires burning in the area and that man is none other than Ryan Reid.

Ryan traveled some and then joined the Mounties, which took him around the world. Along the way, he learned to be a doctor. Now he is back to help with the medical unit at the fort and lend his expertise in fighting the range fires; experience he gained when in Africa. He is ready to make peace with his family, thanks to some advice from a friend who recently passed away. He is nervous about his reception, but determined. He soon finds out that his younger brothers are both married and members of the Mounties, while also helping his father out on the ranch. They are away on a cattle drive.

Julia married Brandon O’Shea when Ryan left and they were happy, although Julia never really forgot Ryan. Her son, Pete, is the spitting image of his father, Brandon, and loves adventure. Her grandfather also helps her out. He has never forgotten the disrespectful way the family was treated by the Reid’s, and to this day, they have little to do with each other. Complicating matters for Julia is the fact that on the day of Ryan’s return, she had placed an ad in her paper, advertising for a gentle husband and man willing to be a father to Pete, as well as a helpmate with her newspaper. She is embarrassed for Ryan to see it.

The tale revolves around Ryan’s relationship with everyone and his relationship with Julia. They are still attracted to each other, yet both have emotional wounds that have to heal in order to move forward. The wildfires come closer and threaten the town, laying the backdrop for everyone being thrown together and for the exciting ending. There is definitely heat in their relationship and plenty of history. While the romance seemed to fit with the two, it also seemed like much of their attraction was due to the past rather than the present.

On the one hand, this story sets the stage well and turn-of-the-century life is described and engaging. Julia is a brave woman and wants to do what is right for her son. She just isn’t sure that Ryan is her answer. Ryan is almost a tortured hero. He is brave and he truly wants to do the right thing to make up for his mistakes. They are engaging as a couple and it was easy to root for a positive resolution. One the other hand, the backstory is slow to be unveiled, adding some confusion to the first half of the story and making it difficult to fully empathize with Ryan’s angst. When his family rejects him at first, it’s hard to fathom why. As more is revealed, it makes more sense, but still seems to be an over-reaction. Fighting the wildfires is slow at first but ultimately provides some exciting action to the end of the tale.

The romance was average, the action was slow to build momentum and the characters seemed to have a past that didn’t quite reach into the present. Despite this, The Commander had its moments and therefore, was an overall acceptable tale.

--Shirley Lyons

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